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Amelia Earhart Has A Flight Plan

Monday, June 02, 2014

Just about every single day of her life, Amelia Rose Earhart — a former TV traffic-and-weather broadcaster in Denver — has had to answer this question: "Are you a pilot?"

For a long time, the answer was no.

Now, though, she's planning to embark this month on a flight around the world, a trip that closely replicates the 1937 journey of the original — and more famous — Amelia Earhart. If she's successful, this Amelia, at 31, will be the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe in a single-engine aircraft.

For simplicity's sake, let's call the contemporary pilot Amelia and the historic pilot Earhart.

And for the record, Amelia is not kin to the famous pilot. She used to think she was, but her mother just took the opportunity to give her a cool name. Amelia says that finding out she is not related actually brought her closer to her namesake. "I feel like we share so much."

The flight, which Amelia has been plotting for about a year and a half, will take off from Oakland on June 23. She'll be flying a Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop plane. Earhart flew in a modified Lockheed Electra 10E with two engines.

Amelia's flight will be a total of about 28,000 miles with 17 stops in 14 countries. Eighty percent will be over the ocean. The final route details haven't been announced because she and her crew are still waiting on things like visas, passports and the weather forecast.

Learning To Fly

When Amelia entered the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2002, she started to hear a new question: "Could you ever fly around the world?"

She began to wonder if maybe she should try to finish what the original Amelia Earhart was unable to.

Amelia worked extra jobs to raise enough money for her first flight lesson 10 years ago. "It was a junky old plane, a cranky, old flight instructor," Amelia says, "but it didn't matter what the environment was. I was in the air. And I've been there ever since."

She even found a way to fly — in a traffic helicopter — as part of her day job.

Finishing The Flight

In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Five years later, she set out on a round-the-world flight. She disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. No one knows what happened. It's an unsolved mystery.

People seem compelled to share their theories with Amelia.

"What if it's my mission in life," Amelia says, "to do the flight for myself, but also for her, and also for other girls who might want to get interested in aviation and pursue their own adventures?"

In an effort to do just that, Amelia started the Fly with Amelia Foundation in 2013 to help put girls ages 16-18 through flight school. Flying is incredibly difficult, and you need good role models and peopling to cheer you on, but it's also very expensive, she says. "When the funds are there, I believe that the learning is unlimited."

There are currently about 50 girls involved in the process — interviewing for scholarships or actually flying.

Amelia's late-June excursion will be one of the world's first socially integrated flights around the world. The plane, equipped with Wi-Fi, will have live-streaming video and audio. She and her co-pilot, Shane Jordan, will be sending out tweets and Facebook messages — while the plane is on auto-pilot — using the hashtag #flywithamelia.

The girls in her program and people around the world will be able to stay connected with Amelia from the time she departs in Oakland all the way through to the end of the flight. "And that's something we've never seen, so I'm really excited to see how people get engaged," Amelia says.

The schedule has Amelia leaving early from each stop in an effort to see the sunrise around the circumference of the globe, an experience that she says she is excited to share with everyone.

Compass Points

Most of the stops will be less than 12 hours long. Amelia and Shane will land, go through customs, fuel up, configure the aircraft for the next day, eat dinner and go to sleep.

The most important part of the flight, Amelia says, is going to be flying over the area in the Pacific Ocean where Earhart was last seen — near Howland Island. "Nothing's going to go wrong on this flight. I know that deep down," she says. "But the reality is: Flight is still an adventure, and flying over the ocean is dangerous."

Amelia is also looking forward to the first time she sees terra firma coming in from Honolulu to Oakland after flying for about 8.5 hours. "I think that first indication of land is going to be something I'll never forget," she says. "And of course, jumping out of the airplane after you go full circle, 28,000 miles around the globe. I can't wait to see what that feels like."

(This post has been updated.)

Lauren Katz is a production assistant on NPR's social media desk. You can follow her @Laur_Katz.

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